Monthly Archives: November 2009

Intent vs. Motive

There is always a tension, as it relates to law, between an act committed and the reasons it was committed, and whether to judge the active agent of the crime by which of these. In the second chapter of Orson Scott Card’s novel Speaker for the Dead, there is an interesting tidbit about motivation versus action. Says Card,

It was the fashion of Calvinists at Reykjavic to deny any weight to human motive in judging the good or evil of an act. Acts are good and evil in themselves, they said; and because Speakers for the Dead held as their only doctrine that good or evil exist entirely in human motive, and not at all in the act, it made students like Styrka quite hostile to Andrew.

I don’t know whether to be impressed that Card grants, in this universe, that Calvinism will have lasted over 3,000 years, or to be offended at his description of its adherents. But I digress. The question of motive is an important one, I believe, in judging the morality or immorality of an action. Was it done with the intention to hurt or help? Did the agent know what he was doing and its ramifications, or did he or she act in ignorance, or with the expectation of different results? These, it would seem to me (even as a Calvinist) bear upon the question of how good or evil an action was. However, I do sympathize with the Reykjavician Calvinism of the future in this: that I do believe–I am sure, in fact–that wrong things can be done with the highest ideals as their impetus, and remain wrong things. That is, even sincerely done for good, the act is wrong. It is independent of the motivation behind it, in some way. Only this belief is respectful to the victim of the action in question. I suppose, then, that I lie in between Andrew and Styrka in this debate. But, if you will allow, I will move on.

I wanted to discuss the difference between intention and motivation, and to comment on their relevancy to the administration of justice. I believe, and I believe strongly, that intent is extremely germane to the question of justice in any given case. I believe just as strongly that motive is not. What I mean is this, that in court, intent must be judged, it must be weighed, in making a ruling, but motive must be ignored. We understand this already, and generally, this is how judgments are determined. For example, in the case of one person killing another. We have words like “involuntary manslaughter” and “premeditated murder” to help us distinguish between intentional and unintentional killing. Indeed, in there are degrees of murder, in which the extent and degree of a person’s intent is weighed. A killer receives a more severe sentence for committing murder in the spur of a heated moment (this is a crime of passion) than for accidentally hitting and killing a pedestrian in his car. And again, a more severe sentence for planning in detail, months ahead of time, to kill someone, and how to do it, than for the unplanned crime of passion. This is appropriate. However, it is not appropriate to decide a sentence based upon motive. That is, if you have two cases of first degree murder, in which one man committed a premeditated murder for one reason, and another man for another reason, they should not receive different degrees of punishment because of it. Intent deals with whether a person wanted or planned to commit an act. Motive deals with why he wanted to commit it.

Determining the motive of a crime is sound detective work, because it will help discover who the criminal was. But it has no place being factored in behind the bench. To do so is to do two things. First, it is to punish not only a crime (an action), but what a person was thinking when committing it. I do not want to live in a country in which thoughts are criminalized. That is thought control. It means that, although some actions are rightly regulated, I am no longer free to believe whatever I want. I want to live in a country where people are free to believe whatever they choose, and are not judged for their beliefs. This is why I am so disturbed by the designation of “hate crime,” not merely to assault, but to assault with a presumed motive. This is the beginning of thought policing. Second, judging motive apparently makes some of the victims of a crime less important, or less victimized, than victims of the same crime (done with different motives). This is because, as I see it, the measure of punishment a criminal receives is a measure of how much his victims were hurt. (Hence pick-pocketing receives a less severe punishment than identity theft, and murder is capital.) To use the example of severer punishments for “hate criminals,” it would it would imply that one innocent victim of battery is less valuable, or was less hurt by it, than another, because the victims were beat up for different reasons. That’s unfair to the victims and deplorable to justice.

No, This Has Nothing to do With Arnold

According to the U.S. Constitution, only natural born citizens of the United States are eligible for the Office of President. I think this was appropriate at the time it was written, but things have changed a lot, and the United States has always been a nation with a large immigrant population. In fact, immigrants who have experienced life outside the United States may even have a deeper appreciation of the American way of life and government than those who have never experienced anything else. Surely, they may always retain a love for their homeland, but this isn’t a problem. A person may love two countries while maintaining a singular, special loyalty to the United States in executing its highest office.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to permit the Presidency to a new citizen who had moved from Botswana two years ago. This person could not possibly be rooted deeply enough in American culture, thinking, procedures, or issues to properly be President of the United States. Moreover, loyalty to America would have been by that time impossible to determine.

So I have an idea that I think would make a fine Constitutional amendment. The minimum age requirement for holding the office of President is 35 years old. (No one has ever been nearly this young, but that’s the criterion.) I propose that we open the Presidency to those who are natural born citizens or who have been naturalized citizens (not merely legal residents) for at least 35 years. This is like a lifetime of citizenship. It is a long time, no doubt, but doesn’t seem unfair to me; we’re talking about the President, after all. This would open the Office to immigrants, but not imprudently. I would also add that the President of the United States may have had but cannot have duel citizenship.

Universal Rights and American Exceptionalism

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Over here, this is what we believe.

Yesterday, President Obama spoke in China in a town-hall type environment, bringing up several topics, including environmental issues and trade. But he also spoke of the two very different ways in which China and the United States treat their people, and of the values those two countries esteem. According to ABC News online, Obama said that “freedoms of expression and worship and access to information and political participation, we believe are universal rights.” By “we,” I can only assume that he, as our spokesman, was talking about Americans collectively. The President said that these freedoms should “be available to all people […] whether they are in the United States, China, or any nation.”

By speaking of “universal rights” that rightfully belong to “all people” no matter where they reside, Obama is 1) saying that rights are not decided by cultures, but by something that transcends cultures. That is, there are some rights that are not made up–they are not culturally relative, yet some cultures have chosen to recognize these universal rights, while some have repressed them. But the conclusion of Obama’s words are plain: the rights still exist in cultures that repress them. Two, he is making it clear that some cultures are superior to others, and 3) deciding to engage in cultural warfare, promoting American ideals of liberty to the exclusion of other (inferior) ideals. This is good.

Obama himself may or may not even realize the implications of declaring certain rights to be universal. It is essentially saying that the American way is more right than the way of Communist China and their authoritarian methods of restricting information and freedoms of dissent, dialog, and religion. It is pitting one culture against another, not to compare two “equal but different” ways of life, but to choose between right and wrong. It is recognizing that rights aren’t man-made. It is appealing to a transcendent standard. But whether Obama understands these necessary implications or not, for stating clearly that certain rights are not granted, nor can be rightfully rescinded, by culture or government, but are absolute, I applaud the President.

The Religion of Peace Strikes Again

Robin Williams used to have a joke he used routinely. It was something about wearing pants so tight, “I can tell what religion you are.” Okay, it’s a joke about circumcision. Pretty funny? Sure. But I’ve got a better one. “Man goes ape-shit and kills and injures a whole bunch of innocent people in shooting rampage. I can tell what religion you are!” This one’s not so funny, maybe. Maybe it wouldn’t work in the comedy clubs, but it would resonate with a lot of people who aren’t infected with the cataracts of political correctness. I picked up a copy of USA Today last night, and on the front page, this headline: Top Brass warn against anti-Muslim backlash. Isn’t this all they do nowadays? Is anyone noticing that authorities are constantly having to “warn against anti-Muslim backlash” because Muslims are always murdering folk. What a great religion. Maybe in a couple years we’ll stop saying “went postal” and start saying “went Muslim.” In most cases, though, that might literally be true. Islam is a fast growing religion. That’s bad news, because it is a supremely hateful, oppressive, intolerant, backward, and violent ideology, and we’ve seen its fruits too many times around the world.

I sure hope the top brass, whoever they are, do a good job curbing any anti-Muslim backlash. I guess they have, since, according to USA Today, no “angry phone calls” have “turned into action.” Well, yeah. Muslims should thank Allah the phone-callers weren’t Muslim or things might have been different. Janet Napolitano made sure to insist that “[the mass murderer Hasan] was an individual who does not represent the Muslim faith.” Do you buy this? I used to buy that line. But now, I don’t think so. I think I’ve grown a little more awake than to believe that dribble anymore. No, I think Nidal Malik Hasan was more likely a very good Muslim. A faithful Muslim. A Muslim little Muslim boys want to grow up to be just like. According to Muslims, I’m right, too. Muslim Imam al-Awlaki, who used to lead a mosque in Virginia which Hasan attended, said,

“Nidal Hassan is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people. This is a contradiction that many Muslims brush aside and just pretend that it doesn’t exist. Any decent Muslim cannot live, understanding properly his duties towards his Creator and his fellow Muslims, and yet serve as a US soldier. The US is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam.”

Note carefully that al-Awlaki equates a war on terrorism with a war on Islam. For him, at least, terrorist acts are an integral part of Islamic living. Any campaign to stop them is a campaign against the faith itself. And I believe him. He goes on to talk about “the heroic act of brother Nidal.” Great. For politicians, then, Hasan’s actions are not normative of Muslim behavior. But according actual Islamic leadership, they are. Who is the real authority on Islam? What does Janet Napolitano know about the Muslim faith? I have enough respect for the religion to take its practitioners on higher authority regarding it than those outside the faith, especially some white politician, or those in a position in which they have to say Islam is a peaceful religion no matter what they really believe. I hate all false religion because it keeps people from Christ. But I have a special place of hatred deep in my heart for Islam. I’ve got to hand it to Muslims, no other religion compares to Islam’s barbarity, incivility, or level of violent enforcement. Way to go, guys. You really do take after Mohammad!

This was not a very nice post. But I reserve the right to use my blog to express these things so that I don’t have to in real life.

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